Friday, May 17, 2013

In Retrospect: The Rod of Seven Parts

[Obligatory Spoiler Alert]

As I've said before, I miss the days of boxed sets. I liked buying a $30-35 adventure or campaign setting boxed set, opening it up, and looking at all the goodies.

The Rod of Seven Parts, by Skip William is just one of those boxed sets. It was part of the Tomes series of adventures that focused on a powerful artifact or location. The Return to the Tome of Horrors, and The Axe of the Dwarvish Lords. These adventures are meant for high level (13+) characters.

You get lots of goodies in this boxed set:
Book I: "Initiation to Power" (96 pages)
Book II: "The War Against Chaos" (64 pages)
Book III: "Might and Menace" (32 pages)
Book IV: "Monsters"
6 two-sided reference cards
6 full-color poster maps showing locations and 1 inch grid battlemats for key tactical encounters.

(My only annoyance is really with the maps, and its something TSR did for years. The posters are unwieldy and difficult to use without showing players locations you don't want them to see).

The goal of the adventure is pretty self-evident: the adventurers must find and assemble the Rod of Seven Parts, and prevent the forces of evil from also collecting the pieces. It's not an easy quest by any means, they may not even realize they have parts of the Rod in their possession for sometime. Furthermore, the heroes end up getting entangled in the ancient war of law against chaos, the Wind Dukes of Aaqa versus the Queen of Chaos and her spyder-fiend minions.

Spyder-fiends entering via a chaos gate
The adventure itself expands upon the artifact's history and powers.  In Book IV presents stats on the The Rod of Seven Parts as written, you can take these creatures and use them in your own game.
Aaqa called the Vaati, the androgynous agents of law and their minions. The Queen of Chaos and her favored general Miska the Wolf-Spider get write-ups, along with the various spyder-fiends. Even if you don't use

Once even one piece is gathered, a character becomes influenced by it. As more pieces are gathered, the bearer slowly becomes Lawful Neutral to the extreme, but they can get lots of cool powers. The downside, of course, is that there's a chance that the Rod will break and scatter its pieces.  See, even though the Rod of Seven Parts is an artifact of Law, it's been tainted by Chaos.

The unpredictability of the rod is why the adventure itself is fairly non-linear. Skip Williams has design The Rod of Seven Parts in a more matrix-style play. Book I "Initiation to Power" features a handful introductory adventures, but they don't have to be run in order. It all depends on the goals of the party. You get a classic dungeon crawl into a naga's lair, a battle over a footbridge, an encounter at an Inn, and so on. The last adventure is really cool: a raid on a cloud giant's castle!

Book II: "The War Against Chaos" is where the adventure becomes more linear. At that point, the PCs have assembled enough pieces of the rod that the almost cannot help but partake in the War in Chaos, ending with the assault on the Queen of Chaos's citadel itself.

Book III: "Might and Menace" features side-treks and optional encounters for the DM to set the PCs back on track, usually by the intervention of a Wind Duke. There's even rules for a new card game, Dragonfire, which can be played with normal playing cards.

Overall, the material is laid out fairly well. A DM wanting to run this adventure (which is actually a campaign) has the daunting task of reading all of this material. There are some key things that might get missed if a DM isn't observant, such as the method to restore the character's world back to order after chaos as altered it.

Another caveat: a DM needs to understand this isn't just an adventure, its an entire campaign in its own right. Its one grand quest that can take many gaming sessions to complete. Some groups might not want that kind of a long slog.

 (In fact, I myself, have run parts of the first book, but the PCs strayed away once they realized they were dealing with the Rod--yeah, I know, crazy. But the characters were of mostly of good alignment and the didn't like the idea of becoming agents of law. They also didn't want to spend a lot of session completing the campaign--they had other goals in mind).

A DM also needs to be prepared to enforce the artifact's side-effects. The Rod of Seven Parts itself can really take away a character's free will. A paladin PC can lose his paladinhood because the Rod enforces law over good.

But if you're players like epic adventures, this one has it in spades: lots of awesome locals, evil creatures to find, and the ever popular quest for a lost artifact. And lots of goodies for the DM.

Presentation: 8 out of 10
Creativity: 9 out of 10 (lots of cool adventuring sites and creatures)
Utility: 7 out of 10 (the poster maps lowered this score because they are hard to use)

Get this if... You want your characters to go on an epic quest in the name of Law, or if you want to learn more about the background of the Rod of Seven Parts, or for locals and monsters you want for your own game.

Don't get this if... You not interested in running a long term, high level, campaign or your feel your players aren't interesting in basically become agents of absolute law.

A couple of last remarks...
1. The novel, The Rod of Seven Parts, by Douglas Niles, was actually quite decent. But you don't need the novel to understand the module and vice versa.

2. There's a part in adventure where chaos starts altering the character's world. Mountains become deserts. Seas become plains, and so on. The odd thing: nobody else besides the PCs understands that things are different, and worse. Famine and inclement weather or more inclement.

I've wanted to run sort of a montage for the players, describing these changes, as their characters travel across their world stumbling upon deserts where there shouldn't be deserts, and swamps there should be mountains. And somehow, "Kashmir", by Led Zeppelin, seems to fit this weird apocalyptic motif.

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